Chicago's Future Chefs

Over the weekend, students from 13 Illinois high school students competed for their chance to represent Illinois in a national cooking competition.

The budding "cheftestants" may be only high school students now, but with the help of the ProStart Invitational competition, they can hope to be the next Grant Achatz or Stephanie Izard.

As the clock starts ticking, these teens have just 60 minutes. What’s their mission? A three-course meal using just this cooktop.

This is one of the many practice sessions before 18-year-old Dulce Rendon and her teammates compete in the 15th annual Illinois ProStart Invitational.

“We were thinking about going Mexican, but making it fancy,” said Rendon, who attends Benito Juarez Community Academy.

ProStart is a high school curriculum offered to students interested in pursuing the culinary arts or hospitality management.

And in Rendon’s case, it’s where she found her love for the kitchen.

“I started noticing, that you know, I’m learning new things; I could make a career out of this,” Rendon said. “That's why. It all started here.”

View a gallery of photos from the competition.

The Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation ensures the students also get opportunities to visit restaurants and hear from chef mentors throughout their training, and it provides scholarships to outstanding young chefs.

“These are high school juniors and seniors that are looking for their passion, and it’s our job to help them find it,” said Kathy Summers, who is the executive director of the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. "And once they find it, it’s our job to help them become work ready and college ready.”

One of those mentors is chef James Klewin, who knows the pressure of the competition prepares students for what they hope will be their futures.

“It gives them (A) a glimpse of what it's like under pressure and prepares them to go into a restaurant. (B) these are the future of the industry for the hospitality it's important to put the effort into helping them become better, because in the end, we're only as good as what we leave behind as a legacy,” Klewin said.

For her future, Rendon hopes to attend Kendall College or the elite The Culinary Institute of America.

“I feel confident with what I'm doing. So I guess, like as long as you have confidence in what you're doing, you show that you're ready to learn new things,” Rendon said.

And after college, Rendon dreams of her own bakery, which shouldn’t be hard to name for a girl named Dulce.

During the competition, Dulce Rendon and her teammates from Benito Juarez Community Academy came in second place out of 13 teams in the culinary competition.  The Technology Center of DuPage came in first place in the culinary competition and Oswego High School came in first place in the management competition.

Watch an interview with former ProStart student and Chef Darnell Reed as he discusses his new restaurant, Luella’s Southern Kitchen, and how ProStart helped launch his career.

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